Photo of the Week

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A great day for a hike to the castle
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A Labyrinth of Experiences

Heidelberg is a unique city in nearly every facet of its being. From the sleek, modernized highrises of west Neuhenheim, to the jagged cobblestone network which forms a maze in the Altstadt (Old Town), each district offers its personal take on Germanic architecture. Hidden gems lie scattered, tucked away amongst it all, and discovering these has been the most exciting moments of my time here. The people who inhabit this city are friendly and stern, as the culture dictates. Grocery store clerks fling your items in an almost comical rush to get each person through the line, and small talk is not really their forte in most establishments. It took me some time to understand and settle in to the somewhat abrasive nature of relationship-building here in Germany, but I have since come to appreciate it for what it is: brash utilitarianism. 

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Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) in the central Marktplatz

While I am beginning to settle with and even flourish in this new pace, enough cannot be said for the rare encounter with a friendly American face. At first I avoided speaking with others from the United States in an effort to fully immerse myself within the language. When I quickly realized that I didn’t have nearly as strong a grasp on the language as I thought, I began opening up with more random English speaking individuals who I came across while exploring. After a little less than a month of living here, I found that I can single out those who carry themselves with what I refer to as an ‘American Vibe’ quite easily (especially if they are in a tour group). Encountering these people often yields an exchange of stories which I would otherwise never have, and these rare conversations become more welcoming with the passing time.

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Dave (left) & Kris (right), an extremely friendly couple on vacation from Indiana

I find that understanding the city through a historical and geographical standpoint allows for a more clear image of its personality to shine through. The fifth-largest city in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Heidelberg is part of the densely populated Rhein-Neckar Metro Region, and is largely a University town (roughly 25% of the population are students). The University here, Universität Heidelberg, was founded in 1386, and is the oldest in the country. It is widely known as one of the most reputable universities in the EU, and consistently placed among the top rated International Universities. Being such an old school, the architecture on campus is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and is something which I have become hyperaware of with each walk in to or out of Universitätsplatz.

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Private Residence on campus near Schloss Heidelberg

Geographically speaking, Heidelberg is in the Rhine Rift Valley, on the banks of the lower Neckar River. The city is engulfed by and nuzzled in a steep valley in the Odenwald Hills, meaning that there are mountains on nearly all sides of the city (less so the further west you travel). I’ve always found the physical and geographical layout of the city to be among its most charming and desirable traits, and living here has brought this notion to the forefront of my mind. The beauty of the town in quite inescapable, as picturesque vistas, alleyways, squares, marketplaces, wide walkways, and buildings culminate in an experience which cannot be found in even the oldest of U.S. cities. As you venture eastward, deeper into the true heart of the city, modernized streets and tall, glass buildings make way for the old world. The Altstadt is the beating heart of the city, lined by Hauptstraße which acts as a primary vein, pumping life blood in and out of the city. Countless alleys branch off the main streets, creating a labyrinth in which I thoroughly enjoy allowing myself to get lost in.

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A narrow staircase/ walkway leading out of the Altstadt

During the period leading up to the second World War, and during the War itself (1934–1945), the city of Heidelberg was a stronghold of the NSDAP, (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party). This adds depth to the layers of history which I had previously understood about the town. I found it extremely fascinating during my research on the Univeristy itself that Non-Aryan University staff were discriminated against in this time period. By 1939, some 33% of the University’s teaching staff had been forced out for racial and/or political reasons. Additionally, I found it tragic that in March of 1945, German soldiers left the city after destroying three arches of the Alte Brücke, a treasured local attraction, in addition to the more modern bridge downstream. I had never considered the implications of this time period on the school and city, which now seems rather silly, as Universities are known for the gathering of intellectuals from all different walks of life. Learning this taught me that even the most beautiful places are scarred by history, and I am able to appreciate the seemingly infinite amount of tiny details, hidden and tucked away within the labyrinth that is Heidelberg.

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Graffiti on a small hatch door in an Altstadt alleyway

 

Settling Down in a German Town

I left Reykjavik by bus to Keflavik International Airport in the disturbingly early hours of April 3rd. My father and I had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Iceland, but unfortunately, all good things must come to and end. Drowsy and hungry, I made my way through check-in and on to security. It was here, while I waited in line, that something terrifying happened:

I heard a voice over the loudspeaker say that the flight to Frankfurt had arrived early and that the gate would be closing in 15 minutes. This woke me up very quickly. A young German couple in front of me were experiencing the same panic, which I found somewhat comforting. I wouldn’t be the only one to miss this flight! I made it through security, rushed to put my shoes, belt, and jacket on while stuffing my laptop into my backpack and securing my wallet, passport and boarding pass. All the while, I was attempting to run towards the gate, which must’ve made me look like some sort of hobbling monster as I grunted and groaned in anguish.

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Exterior of Keflavik International Airport

I ran faster and further than anyone with two hours of sleep and no coffee should ever have to run, but I’m sure at least the Iceland Air employees got a kick out of the scene. I followed the German couple in front of me, who were in a similar state of disarray, although they hid it better. After crushing Usain Bolt’s 100 meter sprint time, I arrived at the gate and showed the agent my boarding pass as the couple in front of me walked down the jet bridge toward the plane. I stood there, sweating like Niagara Falls and attempting to catch my breath/ buckle my belt correctly when the agent informed me that this was a different airline, and that my flight didn’t leave for another two hours. I walked away with a bizarre mix of embarrassment and relief, and decided to find an area where I could relax and wait for my actual flight.

Eventually, I made it to Frankfurt, where I Googled the best form of transportation between the airport and Heidelberg while claiming my bag. It was strange being in the airport alone, knowing that this country would be my home for the next four months. It was so different than Iceland, to which I had just became acclimated. I made my way toward the exit, stopping at an information desk to find where I could purchase a Flixbus ticket. This system is amazing. The Flixbus is essentially a Greyhound, with many different courses running between major European cities every day. I caught one which was en route to Zurich, Switzerland, but made stops in Heidelberg, Mannheim, and other cities along the way. The bus offers complimentary onboard wifi (a near staple of Europe at this point), and a little over an hour later, I was standing at the Heidelberg Hauptbanhof.

From the central train station, I took a taxi (this was a mistake, as I now know I could’ve taken the 32 Bus line for a fraction of the price), which dropped me off at Universitätsplatz in the heart of the University. Here, I was greeted by the brilliant Silvia Kunze-Ritter, my link to Portland State University here. She was the perfect first person to meet when arriving in a new city. She greeted me with a tight hug and a loud “Wilkommen!” She then proceeded to show me around the central Mensa (cafeteria/ hangout area) and helped me fill out the paperwork to receive my dorm room keys. After a few more minutes of paperwork, we left the Mensa and hopped on the 32 Bus heading to Im Neuenheimer Feld, my new home. Silvia had a train to catch, and she left me with another hug at the Hauptbanhof, and then I was alone.

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Universitätsplatz

This is where the reality of my situation caught up with me. I sat on the bus as it carved its way through the narrow streets of Heidelberg, wondering if and how I would survive here. My mind began to wander and I became worried, but I managed to remain calm and reel in my emotions. I metaphorically slapped myself across the face and took control of the situation. This was amazing! I was in Germany with perhaps the most independence I would ever have, able to explore this beautiful city at my own pace. This would be a great experience.

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Gorgeous buildings along the 32 line in the Altstadt

The bus crossed a bridge over the meandering Neckar river, and I stepped out into the area which would become my new home. Im Neuenheimer Feld is an interesting district within the city. There is part of the Universität Campus here, as well as countless clinics and medical facilities. To name just a few around me, there is the Kopfklinik, Chirurgische Klinik, and Kinder Klinik, each within a five minute walk from my place. It took me quite some time to locate my room, as I was not used to the numbering system in German buildings. My room number is 1.3.2, which I took to mean the first (ground) floor. In Germany, however, the 1st floor is what we would consider the 2nd in the United States. The ground floor here is 0, not 1, which makes sense in a very German way.

Eventually, I found my room and moved in, rearranging the desk, dresser, and bed to my liking. The room itself is quite small, which I thought would bother me at the time, but is actually more space than I need. There are four rooms like mine in each cluster of the building. Each cluster shares two bathrooms, one shower, and a kitchen area. I introduced myself to my roommates over the next couple days, and found that we all come from different walks of life and different parts of the globe.

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Bell Flag hanging in my dorm room

Arman is from Kazakhstan and lives adjacent to my room. He is studying engineering (brutal), and is an excellent cook. Within my first few days here, he prepared an amazing vegetable soup from back home, and it hit the spot. He is pretty quiet most of the time and mostly keeps to himself.

Anika is a Chinese exchange student studying Medicine in hopes of becoming a doctor. She is extremely friendly, listens to a lot of classical music, and sings pretty darn well. She told me upon our first meeting that all American men remind her of Justin Bieber. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that.

Elly is an English student from Argentina. She is extremely self-conscious of her ability and accent when speaking English, even though she sounds like a native speaker to me.

And then there’s me. The loud American guy who has been trying to break as many stereotypes as possible during my stay.

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View from the classroom where I took the German language exam

Several of us were experiencing major internet connectivity problems for the first week and half, leaving me without access to the world wide web. Although this is a seeming death sentence for someone my age, I took full advantage of it and went out nearly all day, every day. I explored the narrow labyrinth of streets in the Altstadt, shopping here and there for necessities such as bed sheets, groceries, etc. I discovered areas of the city which I had no clue about, and found restaurants where I could sit and stuff my face with delicious foods.

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An alleyway near Schloss Heidelberg

I’ve been living here for exactly two weeks now, and feel more and more at home with each passing day. My roommate Anika purchased a wifi modem and shared the password with me, for which I am eternally grateful. I absolutely love the city of Heidelberg. Its culture, its history,  its layout, people, food… everything. It is truly a dream come true to spend more than a night or two within the city, and I am starting to feel like a local already.

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Hauptstraße at dusk

 

 

The Long Road to Germany: Iceland

On Thursday, March 28th, my father and I flew out of Pasco, Washington, through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and on to Reykjavik, Iceland. We had been to the island nation once before, two years prior, and fell in love with the city after a few hours of wandering through its narrow streets. Unfortunately, we were only in the city for two days, which was just enough to get a taste of the area, but ultimately left us wanting more. This time around, we came prepared for a longer stay, with plans of exploration and travel.

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Interior of our Iceland Air flight from Seattle to Reykjavik

Side note: Iceland Air is a fantastic way to get to Europe from the United States. Splitting what would normally be a 13+ hour flight into more manageable seven and three hour chunks helps those of us who get restless after sitting still for great lengths of time. Additionally, the Icelandic government is always trying [and succeeding] to grow their tourism industry by offering travelers a free stay in Reykjavik if they so choose.

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Arriving in Iceland

The next day, we landed at Keflavik International Airport at 6:30 am Icelandic Time. Making our way through customs, we boarded the Flybus, which took us east to the BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik. The 45-50 minute ride along the southern peninsula is an interesting experience, and serves as a sampler of the differing types of terrain on offer in Iceland. All of the buses in the country are equipped with free high speed wireless internet, but I was too excited by what lay in wait for us outside the windows of the bus.

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USB plugs accompany free wifi on Iceland’s Flybus
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House on the coast of the southern peninsula in Reykjanesbær
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Church on the outskirts of Reykjavik

From the BSI Terminal in Reykjavik, we transferred to a taxi which brought us directly to the office of CampEasy. This is where we would rent the van which would become our mobile hotel for the next four days and five nights. With only a list of attractions and essentially the bare necessities, we hit the road, ready to stray away from the beaten path and explore all the beautiful wonders that Iceland had to offer.

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Our ‘Easy Fun’ Van from CampEasy.

First, we drove into the city center for a few minutes of reminiscing and urban sight-seeing. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, and more than half the population of the country lives in the city. We stumbled upon some familiar sights from our last visit, and allowed ourselves to get a little lost while attempting to navigate the narrow streets. We eventually drove to a large Icelandic grocery store chain known as Kronan to stock up on foods for the journey, taking our time to find deals and argue about what we might need. After that, we hit the open road, opting to take Þjóðvegur 1 [Route 1] (known locally as the ‘Ring Road’) north towards Glymur Falls. Nestled between the Capital and Western Regions, the falls are among the most famous and prominent in the country.

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Pulled off for a break on Route 1 near Kiðafell

A few hours later we found ourselves at the trailhead to Glymur Falls, and we prepared for the cold hike in. This region was stunningly beautiful and had a lot in common with eastern Washington State geologically. Streams meandered downhill, emptying into Hvalfjörður (a large fjord) to the west.

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Glymur Falls Trail Marker
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Hvalfjörður from the area surrounding Glymur

Hiking through a network of massive caves revealed a powerful, icy river which carried runoff from the falls downhill.

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Me gazing out of a cave near Glymur Falls
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Runoff river from Glymur Falls viewed through a cave
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Brave [dumb?] hikers crossing the freezing river without the log

Having wholeheartedly embraced the idea of staying dry and somewhat warm, we hiked out of the area, got back to our bright red van, and started back west down the fjord and toward the ocean. Traveling along the north side of Hvalfjörður, we passed the campsite which we would eventually return to later that night, and continued around the coastline until we came to the quaint town of Borgarnes. Having not eaten in quite some time, we decided to stop and have our first true Icelandic meal of the trip. We found a quiet place to sit at the Restaurant Landnámssetur Íslands, and we ordered Seafood and Lamb soup. Needless to say, this meal hit the spot.

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Borgarnes, Iceland (our van at the bottom)
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Fish & Lamb Soups, Icelandic bread + butter w/ black salt in Borgarnes

After the meal, our bellies were full and we were ready for another leg of the journey. We climbed back in our van and took off traveling northeast, heading inland toward the very small town of Reykholt. This small community was home of famous Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), who we had heard a lot about in the city of Borgarnes, where a museum stands partially in his honor.

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Reykholtskirkja from the west
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Reykholtskirkja from the north (our van at the bottom)
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Icelandic Turf House in Reykholt

We left the small town of Reykholt after an hour or so of taking in the sights. This was truly a beautiful place, as is almost every city, town, and vista in the country of Iceland. Each and every moment spent here was a treat, and climbing back in our van felt more and more rewarding the further that we traveled. After leaving the town, we followed Route 50 southwest and back in the general direction of Glymur falls. We were separated from the Glymur valley by a large mountain which we had gone around previously to get to Borgarnes, but now decided to cut through. There was a road on the map, the continuation of Route 50, which passed over the mountain and back onto the other side, letting out near a campsite (the one we had passed earlier).

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A small farm in Western Iceland
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Geothermal steam rises from the ground near Reykholt
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More geothermal steam in the countryside
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Scenery from an Icelandic highway
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Stopped for a picture

We drove over the mountain pass which turned into a largely gravel road, save for a few kilometers nearing the other side. The landscape here was intense and rugged, the first time that we had been fully engulfed in snow. The only color other than white was the stark black road which stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see. The pass was rather flat, with a frozen lake to the east where we stopped to take some photos. Coming down the road further lead to a steady decline past several larger lakes, unfrozen and glistening in the evening sun. It was getting late now, and we had been up for quite some time, so we were ready to find a place to rest. Luckily, Route 50 did let out near the camp of Bjarteyjarsandur, a lovely place with friendly staff, lovable dogs, scenic views, and wonderful bathroom facilities! An all around win!

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The long black gravel road over the mountain pass
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A tremendous mountain seen from the pass
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Gorgeous Icelandic valley
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Friendly dog at the Bjarteyjarsandur campsite

We woke up fairly early the next morning, given that we had gone to bed rather early as well. We made a breakfast of boiled eggs, oatmeal, and coffee, which hit the spot and quenched my morning-after-travel starvation. We ate up, showered, got changed, and hit the road with a full day of travel planned ahead of us. Leaving Bjarteyjarsandur, we backtracked south a ways, heading around the Hvalfjörður fjord, but then cut south again, over and through a mountain which separated us from the hills northeast of Reykjavik. Shortly thereafter, we came into a large plain with a massive lake called Þingvallavatn. On the far end of the plain, we came to Þingvellir National Park, a rugged volcanic area characterized by the large fault which sits atop the Mid Altantic Ridge.

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Breakfast at Bjarteyjarsandur
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A sundial at Þingvellir National Park
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Amazing rock in Þingvellir
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Þingvellir National Park and Þingvallavatn lake in the background
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Beautiful mountains in the distance
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An Icelandic flag flying at Þingvellir
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My dad walking away from the camera at Þingvellir National Park
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The famous Þingvallakirkja

After spending quite some time at Þingvellir, we hit the road again, heading east toward our last few inland destinations. First, we came to the world-famous Geysir, a large geothermal geyser which erupts, causing water to fly far into the air every five minutes or so. The whole area surrounding Geysir is scabbed and alien, with bubbling cauldrons in the wet, clay-like surface of the ground. There is a large hotel and restaurant next to the geyser, both of which are still being expanded upon. After leaving Geysir, we continued east until coming to the absolutely stunning Gulfoss Falls. These massive waterfalls are some 32 meters high and are among the largest in the country volumetrically. The landscape in this region which contains both Geysir and Gulfoss is fairly far inland and covered in windswept rock and moss. It is truly beautiful and unlike anywhere else on the planet.

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The land surrounding Geysir
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Geysir exploding

I managed to capture a slow motion video of Geysir erupting. You can view it here.

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Looking east at Gulfoss falls
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Looking west at Gulfoss falls

Leaving Gulfoss, we headed back southwest, toward the Atlantic Ocean off the south of the island. Some time later, after traversing the rural inland region of southwestern Iceland, we came to the Ring Road at the semi-large town of Selfoss. Here, we stopped at another Kronan and gathered some extra foods for our last few days. Then, we turned off to the east, following signs for Vik, but would have to stop and make camp before making it that far. We stayed on Route 1 though the small town of Hella, continuing on to Hvolsvöllur where we stopped to refuel at an N1 petrol station and turned off the main highway. Following a more rural road which stretched into the countryside as the sun went down behind the mountains in the west, we hoped that we had read the directions to the next campsite well enough. As it turned out, we had, and we arrived at the site known as the Hellisholar Cottages just as darkness had set in entirely. Later that night after having been asleep for some time in the back of the van, my father woke me up to come outside. The Aurora Borealis was visible, but only faintly. He had seen it with more clarity than I, but nonetheless the experience was a great one to share. We took advantage of the hot tubs available in this campsite, jumping in for a respite from the cold night air.

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Coming into the city of Selfoss
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A road sign pointing us toward Vik
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On Route 1 towards Vik
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Entering the town of Hella
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Consulting the map

The next morning, we made ourselves a similar breakfast as the day before, relying on oatmeal to do the heavy lifting. The coffee on these brisk Icelandic mornings will be forever solidified into my memory, as they smelled and tasted so wonderful alongside our simple breakfasts in the van. We cleaned up in the shower facilities, and left before the day carried on too long. We made our way back along the country road toward the nearby town of Hvolsvöllur, where we turned back onto the Ring Road and continued our journey east. We passed many gorgeous sights on Route 1 on the south coast of Iceland, stopping to explore and photograph some: Vestmannaeyjar (western islands), Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the mirror-like Holtsós inlet, the mighty Skógafoss waterfall, and more, until the road finally turned north and entered a rainy, fog-filled valley. This valley twisted and turned and lead around a large ridge which forms a natural barrier to the west of Vik, the southernmost town in the country.

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The Hellisholar campsite in the morning
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Vestmannaeyjar islands from the coast
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Our van with Vestmannaeyjar in the background
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Seljalandsfoss
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Mountains near Seljalandsfoss
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The mirror-like Holtsós inlet
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Southern Icelandic coast
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Skógafoss from beneath
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Water from Skógafoss running toward the ocean
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Me in front of Skógafoss
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Skógafoss from above
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Skógafoss
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The land south of Skógafoss
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My dad reaching the bottom of the trail to a waterfall viewpoint
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Back on the road toward Vik

While in the lovely town of Vik, I shot a lot of footage with my camera. Usually, I tend to stick to still photographs, but something about this place geographically intrigued me. I think it was the stillness and tranquility of the black volcanic sand on the beach, and the wet, foggy, moss-covered mountains looming to the west. The valley of twisted rock leading away from the ocean (the one which we approached from using Route 1) formed a ridge in the opposite direction which reaches into the North Atlantic Ocean, trying to be the furthest southerly land in the whole country. However, just beyond the reach of the ridge are several sharp rocks which protrude from the ocean like spires. This image captivated me in a way which I had rarely been captivated before, and I felt obligated to capture the image in video format.

You can view that video here.

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The beach at Vik
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Rocks off the coast of Vik, the southernmost landmass in Iceland
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Looking back at the beach
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Looking east down the coast
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Vik, Iceland
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Horseback riders coming from the beach
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Riders leaving the area
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A church on a hill overlooking Vik and the North Atlantic Ocean

After coming back from the beach, my father and I had lunch at the Strondin Bistro and Bar, an oceanfront restaurant which served us some excellent burgers and fries for a reasonable price. We left the place, mounting back up in the van and decided to turn back west. We had made enough easterly progress, and were ready to turn back for the time being. Shortly thereafter, I found online that another 20 minutes beyond Vik to the east was the filming location for the opening scene of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Being the nerd that I am, as well as genuinely interested in the geography of the area and its black sand beach, I convinced my father that we should turn around and head back to explore the area. Eventually, we made it to the place, a massive volcanic windswept inlet formed by a nearby glacier (Mýrdalsjökull). The black sand beach which stands there now is called Myrdalssandur. I geared up and hiked out into the vast black plain, and found this to be one of the most wonderful moments of my entire life. I was alone (my father opted to wait in the van), and free to explore this seemingly endless expanse of black and gray rock. I stood at the foot of massive grass/moss-covered mountains which hugged the perimeter of Myrdalssandur, giving the place a sense of boundary to the west. This was not true in the east however, where there was seemingly no limit to the beach on the horizon. It was cold and alternating between rain and mist, and I couldn’t have loved it more.

 

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Me getting ready for the hike to Myrdalssandur
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The vast span of Myrdalssandur
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Rivers run through Myrdalssandur

 

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Mountains at the west end of Myrdalssandur
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Selfie at Myrdalssandur

On my walk back to the van, I lost my favorite hat. This hat was very special to me, not only my favorite, but having been through many great memories in Portland with me. I was really upset by the loss, as the hat had fallen out of my rain jacket’s pocket, and there was no chance of finding a gray hat in the endless expanse of black and gray. Nonetheless, I moved past the loss of that beautiful Filson hat and focused on how wonderful it had felt to explore the beach, making myself feel much better. My father left me with a ironic comedic stabbing of sorts by saying: “I told you we shouldn’t have turned around.” I have to give it to my father to always know how to lighten the mood.We hopped back onto Route 1 and began backtracking along the same path which we had traveled earlier. We passed Skógafoss, the Holtsós inlet, Seljalandsfoss, and the islands of Vestmannaeyjar off to the south. We came to the town of Hvolsvöllur once again, and turned off the highway, cutting back to Hellisholar to stay the night.

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The rocks of Vik as seen from Myrdalssandur
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Heading back west
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Buildings in the side of a massive rock formation
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Beautiful skyline on the trip west as the sun begins to set
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Road trip
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Sun setting on a beautiful waterfall
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My dad climbing back into the van after a quick stop at a waterfall

That next morning, we woke up and went through our daily routine of eating breakfast and cleaning up for the day before saying our goodbyes to this wonderful campsite and hitting the road. We backtracked yet again to the junction town of Hvolsvöllur, and this time turned west, heading back toward Reykjavik for only the second time since leaving. We came back into Selfoss and turned off to the south toward the ocean. I wanted to break off the Ring Road in order to see the sea one last time before going back to the city. We drove down into the very small coastal town of Eyrarbakki, which turned out to be home to the largest prison in Iceland (yes, it’s tiny by American standards). Continuing west, we came to the fishing village of Þorlákshöfn, where we stopped to take some pictures before heading back up north to reconnect with Route 1.

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Hanging out with Icelandic horses near Hellisholar
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On the road again
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Map on the dashboard
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Flying the Bell family flag which my dad carried while summiting Mt. Rainier and more
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Litla Hraun (the largest prison in Iceland), just outside the small town of Eyrarbakki

We made it back to the Ring Road at the city of Hveragerði, which we hadn’t passed through or seen before this point. It was small, but beautiful, sitting near the foot of a large, southern mountain range. We turned off here without seeing the town, and made our way west over a highland pass. It was quite snowy here, and there were geothermal outputs and factories dotting the countryside. Steam drifted into the air like clean smoke from a smokestack, and such was the case for the remainder of the ride into Reykjavik. At a point, the city was clearly visible in the distance, nestled into its corner of the bay. It was odd to see such immense civilization in the same country that had immersed me in its wilderness for the past days, but the city was also a welcome sight. I truly love the city of Reykjavik, and find it to contain some of the most wonderful architecture, foods, and experiences.

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Hveragerði
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En route to Reykjavik
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Geothermal steam rising from the ground outside of Reykjavik

Coming into the city, we felt a sense of tension, as other motorists and pedestrians were everywhere to be found. We had to stop at traffic lights constantly, killing our pacing and reminding us with a snap that we were back with the general population. It was an interesting feeling to say the least. We made our way to our urban campsite (called Reykjavik Campsite for ease) in the city which allowed for vans and campers to stay, in addition to providing a youth hostel and spaces for tent campers in the summer. It is in the shadow of the Laugardalsvöllur stadium, and offers quality amenities for all guests. We found a nice spot for our van along a row of trees, and made camp for the night, despite having several hours to spare. We decided to travel into the heart of the city for some dinner and a couple beers, so we headed out with empty stomachs. We hiked up the hill of streets to Hallgrimskirkja in the center of town, and from there, found a lovely and popular restaurant called Café Loki. We were seated upstairs with a gorgeous view of the church, and ordered a delicious meal of lamb stew and several Einstök dark ales. We enjoyed our food, had a conversation with a traveling British couple, and went on our way.

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Me and my father in front of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik
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Me taking in the sights at Café Loki
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Our view of Hallgrimskirkja from Café Loki

Heading back for the van, we passed a lively bar and I talked my father into a few more minutes of drinking to celebrate the closing of our trip. The place was called Bar Ananas, and we went inside for a couple of lagers. While sitting inside, I began discussing the philosophy of Slovenian Psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek with my dad, attempting to explain a course which I had just taken at Portland State. Much to my surprise, a young Icelandic man of about my age approached us and asked something along the lines of: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you two talking about Slavoj Žižek?” Long story short, this guy and I were able to connect and discuss a philosopher who I had just studied and was convinced nobody else knew about. It was an excellent time, and I was able to make my first new friend of the trip. My father and I eventually left Bar Ananas and headed back to the campsite. There, we were able to catch some shut-eye and prepare for our last full day in Iceland in the morning.

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Bar Ananas (Pineapple Bar) in Reykjavik

We woke up early again, although relatively late by our standards, and proceeded to take this last day slowly. We returned our lovely, trustworthy van to the amazing people at CampEasy. They were able to make the process of return very simple and offered us more free coffee, which never hurts. Afterwards, we took a complimentary taxi to our hotel on the Reykjavik waterfront, the Centerhotel Arnarhvoll. We went to the top floor in order to catch happy hour, and enjoyed a wonderful meal and Icelandic lager with excellent views to boot. The famous Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre was directly across the street, and the restaurant provided a wonderful view of the grounds with the sea in the background. We explored some of the waterfront, taking photos of the monuments and making our way through trinket shops before heading out for dinner that night. Stopping at a small pub located beneath Bar Ananas, we ordered two drinks of traditional Icelandic Brennivín to put a metaphorical cap on our journey through Iceland, and then went back to the hotel for some sleep. I had already packed, and had to wake up very early in the morning to catch my flight from Keflavik to Frankfurt.

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Me eating fish stew on the top floor of our hotel with the Harpa Concert Hall in the background
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The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
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Hallgrimskirkja from the waterfront
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Another angle on Hallgrimskirkja from the waterfront
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Sólfarið –  The Sun Voyager

Iceland had been an absolutely amazing prologue to my larger travels in Germany and beyond. I couldn’t imagine going abroad without such a wonderful beginning to the journey. I am thankful for my father, with whom I was able to spend a lot of meaningful time during our days driving and hiking around. I am thankful that he was able to make the trip with me, adding on to the confidence which he and my mother had instilled in me to live abroad independently. It was a once-in-a-lifetime father/son trip that I will never forget as long as I live.

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Hallgrimskirkja at dusk

Introduction

My name is McCade Bell, and I am spending the summer semester studying abroad at the Universität Heidelberg in southwestern Germany. This first post will help you get to know me if you do not already, as I take you through my exciting travels across the Atlantic Ocean. I will be updating the blog weekly as part of my Senior Capstone through Portland State University, and hope that you thoroughly enjoy the ride. Without further ado, here is the summary of my life story, leading up to my departure on March 28, 2017:

I was born and raised in Richland, Washington, the only child of two Hanford High School teachers. I lived in Horn Rapids for the majority of my life, as I attended Sacajawea Elementary School, then Enterprise Middle School in West Richland. Before my freshman year at Hanford High began, my family moved into what used to be my Grandmother’s house in North Richland, only about five minutes away from the school. This made my high school experience something of an ease, as I had never lived so close to my school before. I learned to cherish the ability to ‘sleep in’ and walk to class in the morning.

It was at this time in my life that my family decided to take in a foreign exchange student from… you guessed it: Germany. Franz Scholz would become very close to my family over the next year, and I began to think of him as a brother more than anything else. I was taking German from none other than Frau Morgan at the time, and being immersed in so many German themes at the time solidified my enjoyment of the culture, and I told myself that I would jump at the opportunity to live in Germany if it ever presented itself.

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Franz and I before his Senior Prom.

Flash forward a few years, and Franz had become wholly integrated into the family. We considered him another member of the family, and had allowed him to stay with us indefinitely (he was meant to stay only one year at the beginning). Naturally, the two of us grew closer and closer together, and I enjoyed having someone with which I could discuss German culture. Frau Morgan taught me so much during my three years of German at HHS, and being able to go home and practice with Franz made it all the more enjoyable.

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Low-res picture of me dawning my Germanic Battle Gear for the glory of Deutschland

After graduating from Hanford High, both Franz and I moved out of my parents’ house in pursuit of further education and experience. He moved to Bakersfield, California, where he became an extremely successful salesman for a company called SolarCity (acquired by Tesla, Inc in late 2016). I moved to Portland, Oregon where I studied Geography and English at Portland State University from 2013 – 2017. I wholeheartedly fell in love with Portland, and soon called the city my home. Continuing my German language classes for two more years at PSU, my knowledge and confidence on the subject continued to grow.

During my Senior year at Portland State, I began looking into options for what is called the ‘Senior Capstone.’ This is essentially Portland State’s version of a final project. After a lot of searching, I found one called Reporting Live, wherein I would travel to another country, live there for a few months, and blog about cultural differences, experiences, etc. with a classroom back home. This option sounded right up my alley, as I have spent much of my life traveling (my parents lead tours through Europe and often vacation in Mexico), and was still anxious to live abroad.

I jumped on the opportunity, securing a spot in the Reporting Live class, and asking if there were any chance that I could connect with Frau Morgan’s German class at Hanford High. The fact that I had a teacher in mind boosted my chances of getting accepted, and I was approved a few months before my departure time. From there, I had a choice to make: Tübingen, or Heidelberg, Germany. I had been to Heidelberg several times before, and remembered how much I had loved spending a day or two within the city, so my choice was rather easy in the end: Heidelberg it would be.